Buzz Aldrin was there when Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon. Yoko Ono was with John Lennon when he wrote Imagine. Sherpa Tensing was alongside Edmund Hilary when he conquered Everest.
And now I shall forever be able to say that I was there when David Watkins invented The Sloppy Joe-nut.
Yes, that’s right. You’ve heard of the doughnut. You’ve heard of the cronut. And this week, on an overcast day at Hoxton Street Market there was quite a low-key ceremony consisting of just myself and Watkins, in which he unveiled The Sloppy Joe-nut. A hollowed-out bun, filled with a meaty-chilli-cheese Sloppy Joe.
Now – before I say too much about the Sloppy Joe-nut, I should first give you a little background on the Sloppy Joe itself. For those of you unacquainted with a Sloppy Joe, it’s basically a deconstructed burger. A chilli dog without the dog. The darling of the dining scene in the Midwest.
More and more though, these American gems are gathering cult-following this side of The Atlantic. There’s the enduring success of Pitt Cue & Co., BBQ Competitions are catching on, as are all things chilli and jerky – incidentally, the lovely Will Yates from Billy Franks Jerky was at Slojos with me, and is competing in the UK Chilli Cook Off Final next weekend in Brighton – so everybody keep your fingers tightly crossed for him. The winner gets flown to Vegas for the Global Chilli Cook Off Final!
Anyway, Watkins first fell in love with the loose meat sandwich when cycling across America a couple of years ago. He returned to Britain, finished his economics degree, relocated to Clapham and decided to take the leap into setting up London’s first Sloppy Joe stand. From south London, Watkins cycles across the city each morning, pulling his street stand in a trailer behind him, to Hoxton Street Market. He constructs his Slojos stand, and starts doling out the Sloppy Joes to punters passing by for a very reasonable £4.
Though it’s actually more like £3.50, as Slojos has several devices for knocking 50p off the price – ranging from being a card holder (I think it works for pretty much any card. From what I can gather it doesn’t matter if it’s a student card or a launderette card, but general cards seemed to deduct 50p) – then there’s the ’50p off quiz’ and the ‘bring a friend and get 50p off’. There is also a loyalty card for dedicated Sloppy Joe eaters, one of whom popped by and asked for his ‘regular’. Brilliant.
Watkins has got the Sloppy Joe making down to quite a fine art form now. Firstly, a ladle of chilli beef on the griddle, then grated cheese on top. Next, he takes a metal cylinder – which he fashioned from a utensils jar – and slots the bun lid into it, and then cups it over the beef and cheese (see diagram below for a clearer explanation). Meanwhile, the other half of the bun is gently toasting on the grill, before being popped into a styrofoam container and topped with chilli mayonnaise, lettuce and caramelised onion. Finally, Watkins slides a griddle scraper under the chilli-and-bun-in-a-can, and lets it collapse on top of the bun base. While I was there, customers specifically asked for the scratichty caramelised bits of beef and cheese from the griddle pan to be popped into too. Quite right – they’re some of the best bits.
Sloppy Joes are delicious, and far surpass burgers in terms of their moistness. But the only problem is that they are a little messy to eat. “Sometimes people ask if I couldn’t just do a burger” sighs Watkins. But then I ask a customer who drops by whether he thought that running a burger side line was a good idea. “Hell no!” he said. “If they want a burger, then they should just find a burger stand. The whole point of this is the sloppiness.” Exactly.
Still, Watkins pondered the messy element of a Sloppy Joe long and hard, and this is where the concept of the Sloppy Joe-nut comes from. Now, I don’t want to give too much away, because the Sloppy Joe-nut is still in early development phase. But I think that the concept of containing the chilli beef and melted cheese in a hollowed-out bun is a stroke of genius.
For those of you who haven’t visited Hoxton Street Market, I encourage you to do so. As the sign in the photograph above points out, it’s really very close to Old Street and Shoreditch and The City. It’s a changing street. Artisan coffee shops-cum florists and Asian fusion tapas bars are juxtaposed by traditional launderettes and chicken shops. But give it a decade or so, and there might be a blue plaque nailed somewhere on a wall on the street. ‘Thursday 12 September 2013, David Watkins invented the Sloppy Joe-nut’. Remember, you heard it here first.
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